“even sophisticated readers of The New York Times sometimes find it hard to distinguish between news coverage and commentary in our pages.”
—Bill Keller, The New York Times’ executive editor. What direction does that commentary come from? Well, let’s flashback to another famous Times-related quote, from last year:
Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?
Of course it is.
–Dan Okrent, their former ombudsman.
Update: Speaking of the Times, Donald Luskin looks at Paul Krugman’s “‘BamaGate“, which he calls Krugman’s “own little RatherGate”.
Another Update: Not surprisingly, Ed Morrissey has an interesting take on Keller’s statement:
A local newspaperman once told me that my suspicions about our local newspaper and its editorial bias were fundamentally correct but my understanding of how it happens was off. Technically, he assured me, the wall exists. Editorial-page staff do not influence the placement and editing of the news sections. The bias enters the system because the newspaper/media organ tends to hire and promote people who think alike — in this case, with strong leftist biases.
This causes a cognitive disconnect when media critics start complaining about the biases of news reporting at places like the New York Times or the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Bloggers such as myself will point out evidence of what we think is editorial tampering in news reporting. The newspaper, knowing that the processes in place don’t give that kind of access to the decisionmaking on news reporting, scoff at the allegations and hold them up to show us as rubes. In fact, the bias exists, as this journalist told me — but results from the monolithic mindset that afflicts most news outlets due to the “birds of a feather” syndrome, and not any deliberate attempt to skew reporting, at least not directly.
Keller’s remarks therefore probably admit less but mean more than people think. I doubt that he intended on saying that the wall has crumbled and editorialists have infiltrated news reporting. What I think he meant was that the bias exists with or without the wall. That presents a much more difficult problem for papers like the Times. If the processes really were corrupt, fixing them would not be terribly difficult. The problem exists because newspapers have created a tunnel-vision mindset, one so entrenched that most of those involved can’t even detect it for themselves.
The challenge, for those who admit this problem, is to fix it. Given the size of the effort needed to do so, it really isn’t so surprising after all that most would prefer not to acknowledge it.
At this point in time, I doubt very much that anyone in the legacy media–particularly The New York Times–has any great desire to fix its bias. It’s infinitely easier to simply circle the wagons, ignore the increasingly gray demographics of your remaining audience, and hope the problem goes away before your audience does.